Huntingdon Hall, Worcester ****
Worcester's annual Elgar Festival has added significance in this, its fifth year: a celebration of the Queen's Platinum Jubilee, but also several premieres. Most of these are rescorings of earlier compositions, but in its opening concert we heard the genuine premiere of the last masterpiece to come from the pen of the late John Joubert.
Joubert's musical ancestry can be traced back through his own school music teacher in South Africa to Elgar himself, making him a worthy candidate for inclusion here, and this premiere of his The Right Human Face was the centrepiece of Friday's lunchtime recital from baritone Marcus Farnsworth and pianist Eric McElroy.
Setting Edwin Muir's beautiful poem of loving recognition, Joubert's music grows in radiance like a glorious sunrise, acknowledging the burgeoning of love, mirroring the wonderful marriage he shared with his wife Mary for 68 happy years. The vocal line shimmers with rapt devotion, the piano-writing is absorbing in its word-painting, busy and evocative, and the simple, timeless postlude takes us back through the centuries as though evoking an eternity of love. This is a magical, moving homage to Mary, and there could not have been a more apt manuscript to have been left on Joubert's desk as he passed away.
Songs by Elgar and John Ireland ballasted the programme, which also included works by the young American McElroy himself. His song-cycle The Fetch found Farnsworth well highlighting key words, the piano textures brimming with gestural, spectral ideas which collide and return.
There were similar characteristics in McElroy's A Short Story of Falling, its teeming piano writing taking much attention away from the narrative-like vocal line, heroically delivered by Farnsworth, but seemingly secondary in importance.
Christopher Morley

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